Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The musical moving forward

My collaborator and I sat down earlier this week and re-considered the date for putting on the musical. She's keen to do it this year, say in September, while there's still some impetus behind it from a few others who have so far been involved. Plus, waiting around another year for me to finish the music isn't perhaps very exciting for her.

That night I didn't sleep very well, between thinking about the fact that I'll be out of a job officially by the end of February 2011, that my wife and I will then be on a considerably leaner income, and that if I'm to get this music written in the next few months that's quite an ask.

At least that's how I viewed it then. The collaborator has since realised that the Rugby World Cup is due here in Sept/Oct, and that puts Sept pretty much out of the picture in terms of presenting anything theatre-wise. Too many people may have their brains elsewhere. So she's wondering about late August as a production date. Crikey, that gives me even less time.

On the other hand, I have about 25% of the music written - and a good deal of that scored for a pit orchestra - and there will be repetitions and repeats of themes, and borrowing of bits of music from the original version of the musical (the 30-year-old version), so perhaps it's not such a big ask. Especially if I concentrate on the piano score version rather than trying also to orchestrate as I go.

It may be a good thing that I won't be working after February! Sounds like I'll have more than enough on my plate...but also less income. Hmmmmm.

Neither my wife or I are keen to work regularly anymore, in some ways. I've been working for 50 years (apart from two stints when I was out of work previously, one of six months, and one of about three), and she's been working since she was 15. Admittedly she's had more time out than I have, with being at home looking after very young children (three under five at one point). That has to be counted as good solid work (although it was less restricted than having to go to an actual job), so in a sense she's been working for 46 years as well.

Neither of us are averse to work, but I think we're at the stage where working on our own terms may be more preferable than being under a boss and having to do so many hours a week. Time will tell, as will the state of the income. She wondered about the possibility of running a small business from home; that's fine if we can find something that doesn't lose money, and that doesn't require us to be on deck 24/7. Perhaps we could look at small business phone systems to see if it's possible to work from wherever we are....on the beach, out in the middle of nowhere, walking the dog in the open air...? Vodafone gives the impression that it's possible to work from anywhere, but when my wife and I went for a walk with the dog this morning, 2 degrees wasn't working on the mobile, and they run through Vodafone, I believe.

Anyway, this is all a bit of a wander; what I need to get on and do, whatever happens with the musical, is draw up a bit more of a plan of attack in regard to the music than I have done so far. Up till now it's been a matter of writing some of the songs I knew would fit in at various points, and then going back to the beginning and writing from there. It's a workable approach, and has been successful for the most part, but I'm at the point now where things need to cohere even further.

Off I go to cohere!

Photo by Jorge Franganillo

Minister for the Rugby World Cup

Murray McCully, I've only just discovered, is Minster [sic] of Foreign Affairs, Minister for Sport and Recreation and Minister for the Rugby World Cup. We need a Minister for the Rugby World Cup? Crikey!

Unfortunately, I missed what he was saying about what New Zealanders should be doing in relation to the Cup, because it was on the radio, and the bath was running in the background and the kettle was boiling. But it sounded as though he was doing an Aunty Government thing about telling us to behave ourselves and give a good impression to overseas visitors. But I could be totally wrong...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Desperate Retail

Desperation seems to be the order of the day in retail, which makes me yet again glad I'm no longer in it. A bit of Trade Me selling is enough for me, especially now that you can keep on rolling over the same 50 titles without any great effort (or additional cost) until they sell. At present I'm not selling much on Trade Me because I haven't been putting any real time into it (even on Trade Me, surprisingly enough, you have to turn the stock over and provide some new titles) but this morning, having had a bit of time, I've done some shuffling around, put about ten new books on (when I say 'new' I mean new to my part of Trade Me) and shifted some of the 'older' stock over to They don't sell much on sella, which bought out, where they didn't often sell either. These small scale websites have a huge job to compete with Trade Me, and the main reason I use them is to 'store' stuff until I copy and past it back onto Trade Me again. It saves me having to start from scratch each time.

Books aren't one of the top sellers on any of these auction sites - but they do sell. Which brings me back to retail in general. Nowadays around Christmas we have the pre-Christmas sales, which start about November, then the December sales, and then the just-before-Christmas sales, which smacks of desperation. And if that wasn't enough we have the Boxing Day sales starting the day after Christmas - and reducing the Christmas sales still further.

When these Boxing Day sales first began, they were a way for the retailers to get rid of some of that unsold Christmas stuff. Now they're just part of the whole ridiculous sales-surrounding-Christmas period, which goes on for virtually a couple of months. There are so many sales that no one's buying anything at full price. In spite of the accountant at work who says that the retailers will have bought stuff at really low prices, and can afford to sell them off, I suspect that this isn't entirely the case. There may be big retailers, like Farmers, or the Warehouse or Briscoes, with their endless special weekend sales, that can do this - it's part of their ongoing modus operandi. But the small retailers, who don't have the benefit of mass buying, just have to discount their goods and cut their losses, and from my experience, the more you discount the more you have to sell - and sell fast, in order to keep ahead of the cash flow difficulties that then arise.

I don't think this whole business of sales all round Christmas are helping retail in the slightest. All they're doing, for the most part, is helping retailers cover their costs. It's likely they're not even covering their costs any more. They can't be making any real profits. Discounts, when they aren't your normal way of selling are just a killer. You can't keep giving away your stock. The more you encourage people to look for sales and bargains, the more money you are going to lose. It's a fact of life. I've been there.

I'm happy to stick to Trade Me, selling books that I bought at nonsense low prices in the first place, or which have been donated, or which I no longer need on my own shelves. These don't cost me anything, effectively, so any profit I get is a gain. And I don't have overheads...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Musical trademarks

The writer on the website, Never Mind the Bricolage, (whose name escapes me and my record-keeping at the moment) is discussing the notion that two of Radiohead's albums, written ten years apart, can actually be woven together to form a musically coherent album. At one point he has this to say:

I think it was someone like John Mellencamp who said in a Rolling Stone interview years ago that all musicians only had three or four songs. What he meant was, if you listen to most of your favourite artists, their musical palette is probably quite narrow in terms of things like chord sequences, particular rhythms and characteristic sounds. It's why songs have a familiar feel to them even though they are new. It even goes a bit wider than that, maybe you've been to a U2 concert where they have woven someone else's song into their own and it fits melodically etc. Pop music is quite simple really, two or three chords, built around a beat add lyrics---the artfulness is not simply in the structure but what is done within that structure.

When he's talking about musicians, of course, he's talking about the popular scene; more serious composers might consider that they had a couple more than three or four songs in them, or even three or four themes. We'd hope so.

Nevertheless, when you listen to any Mahler symphony, or any other of his works, the Mahler trademarks tu
rn up all the time. That's perhaps slightly different to the personality of the composer being inherent in their music: Mozart always sounds like Mozart, as does Beethoven, but they don't tend to use Mozart or Beethoven ''trademarks' in the way Mahler does. He might be an extreme example, and I might be waffling here (it has been known to happen). Thinking about my own music, I don't in general find there are recognizable connections between one piece and another - but perhaps it takes an outsider's ear to hear them?

Totally unrelated to this, it's interesting that when I was younger I generally wrote words like 'recognisable' with a 'z' instead of an 's': recognizable. For some reason I seem to have slipped quite unconsciously into the 's' approach as the years have gone on. There now, wasn't that interesting?

Keeping art alive

Jurgen Wolff reports:

One of the reasons that David Hockney has kept the attention of the art world is that he's open to trying new things.

For a while, he experimented with Polaroid pictures taking advantage of the fact that for a short time after the picture came out of the camera you could squish and squash it to distort the image.

Now the 73-year-old has been using his iPhone and an app called Brushes to create original artwork.

The New York Review of Books reported in 2009, "Over the past six months, Hockney has fashioned literally hundreds, probably over a thousand, such images, often sending out four or five a day to a group of about a dozen friends, and not really caring what happens to them after that."

Read the rest of the article here

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Words and knives

If I said to you the phrase, Spyderco salt, would it mean a thing? Well, you might be one of those clever people who know everything, or you might be someone who resides in the United States (the country my youngest child, my younger son, is travelling to at this very minute - literally) and therefore you might be familiar with Spyderco.

Spyderco are a company that specialises in knives, in a big way. Every possible kind of knife you can imagine needing is available through them. Their 'salt' range relates to knives used in the fishing industry, as far as I can tell, (you can see an example on the right).

But what I found interesting on their site was their knowledge page, where they not only have a glossary of terms, a list of the types of handles, the blade coatings, the clips and much more, they have a section called 'blade shapes.' Like the jargon of any specialised group the words in this section are fascinating in themselves: a drop point blade, a hawkbill, the Wharncliffe blade and the swedge. Here's the definition of the last on that list: Also called a false edge, it is a ground edge on the back of the blade's spine, that is chamfered, or non-sharpened. It removes weight from the blade and can change the blade's balance and penetration performance and appearance.

When you work in a particular field, the jargon becomes second nature - as a musician of many moons, I speak a lingo that's extremely familiar to me, and to a number of other people I'm associated with. However, to those outside the circle, much of this language has no meaning, because the words just don't have a connection with their lives. (Consequently, whenever a musical question comes up on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I always find it easy - not so the contestant necessarily.)

One of my friends at church this morning came out with an entirely unfamiliar word in passing conversation - he delighted in it, but I can't remember it at the moment at all (!) However, during the week I came across two other unfamiliar words which I have remembered: 'eclogue' and 'intinction.' I'm not sure how I'll drag them into everyday conversation (although they did make an appearance on Facebook) but I'm doing my best to remind myself of their existence by dropping them into places such as this blog.

English is a fascinating language, and continues to grow by leaps and bounds as we create more and more of our words based on older ones or by finding new ways of expressing something, or by pinching words from other languages and making them our own (as we're doing increasingly with Maori words).

Robert McCrum, writing in the Guardian recently, reminded us that about 350 million people worldwide speak English as a mother tongue. According to the British Council, the number learning English will hit 2 billion in the next 10-15 years. That's a third of mankind. But what is perhaps more interesting still is that the Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words. A further half million technical and scientific terms remain uncatalogued. By contrast, German scores a vocabulary of 185,000 words, and French fewer than 100,000, including such Franglais as le snacque barre and le hit parade.

500,000 words, without counting all the technical and scientific jargon. I'd have needed to have learnt more than twenty words a day for every day of my life to catch up with all those, let alone all the words that aren't included in the dictionary. Eclogue, swedge and intinction will have to do for the present.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Getting fame in perspective

Unless you're running for something that requires a unanimous vote, it's a mistake to focus on the frowning guy in the back of the room or the dolt who doesn't get your subtle references or the miser who isn't going to buy from you regardless...

You're on the hunt for sneezers, for fans, for people willing to cross the street to work with you. Everyone else can pound sand, that's okay. Being remarkable also means being ignored or actively disliked.

From Seth Godin: Lady Gaga and me

Incidentally, I had no idea what a 'sneezer' was in the context, so it was helpful to find this definition: Sneezer: An online marketing slang term coined by Charles Nicholls, founder of SeeWhy, to describe any customer that spreads your offers and promotions through social networks. Social networking sites make it incredibly easy for your "sneezer" customer to share promotions and positive word-of-mouth marketing about your business in a single click with his or her network of friends.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

History made: First read-through

Last night eight of us gathered together to do the first 'public' read-through of the musical my collaborator and I have been working on during this year. At this stage it was sans music, though there is some music actually written - in fact it was a bit odd for me going back to reading stuff as lines that will eventually be sung as lyrics.

I'd divvied up the parts between the eight of us, and some of the actors had a ball getting 'into character' - and gave the rest of us a laugh as well at this unexpected dimension to the reading. I was really chuffed at the way they all took it to heart and came out with unexpected nuances - and occasional misreadings that added to the humour. It's quite an achievement swapping from character to character (there are getting on for thirty speaking parts in the script, some big, some tiny - and of course many of them will be doubled up in the production, that is, two or three parts will be played by the same actor) but the cast did wonderfully, and seldom missed a beat.

I keep calling them the 'cast' - more than one of them enthused about getting on and rehearsing in the near future. Unfortunately, that's not quite going to happen: the music has to be completed yet, along with the instrumental scoring (worse, in a way: I've decided to change the instrumentation, which will mean further revising of the score - but it's necessary). We're looking at a possible production date in the first half of 2012.

Which seems a long way away. But one more step has been taken on the trip, and what's more, we now have several other enthusiasts involved, which is what the show will need if it's to really get off the ground.

One of these days it'll get a name, too!

Spliced together

I just have to keep track of this video, a compilation of shots from movies from 2010.

Whoever Gen I is, he has a superb gift for editing: the cutting of shots in this video and their melding together with the music is top quality. Okay, it doesn’t ‘mean’ anything, but it’s an enormous celebration of the visual aspects of movie-making, of the timing of ‘moments’, of colour and light and the way a phrase is spoken. I love it!

How to organise a retreat, or an advance, or a whatever

I've never had to organise a retreat - apart from the ones I've done on my own without any other bodies involved - but if I did, I'd certainly be thinking about at least some of the ideas Seth Godin proposes in his latest blog post.

He doesn't actually want to call them retreats, but advances - something I concur with entirely, and which I've said also they should be called, for years.

Basically he reviews the 'advance' as a place to do some real forward thinking, innovative network building, and a heap more. He comes up with some twenty points, any one of which would be a good addition to most retreats as they're presently conducted.

You may already do some of these (all of these? nah!) but even if you do, his post is worth a read and some reflection.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

  • Never (never) have people go around a circle and say their name and what they do and their favorite kind of vegetable or whatever. The problem? People spend the whole time trying to think of what to say, not listening to those in front of them (I once had to witness 600 people do this!!)
  • Instead, a week ahead of time, give each person an assignment for a presentation at the event. It might be the answer to a question like, "what are you working on," or "what's bothering you," or "what can you teach us." Each person gets 300 seconds, that's it.
and one that requires a bit of paradoxical thinking:

  • Use placecards at each meal, rotating where people sit. Crowd the tables really tightly (12 at a table for 10) and serve buffet style to avoid lots of staffers in the room. Make it easy for people to leave boring tables and organically sit together at empty ones.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kiwirail just doesn't get it

Paying cheap today will cost dearly tomorrow. I know that's not quite a proverb (well at least it wasn't until a minute ago) but it applies to the way Kiwirail is dealing in regard to building 300 new flat-deck wagons. They're going to get the Chinese to build them, (in China, of course) because they claim that the price the Chinese offer is 70% below the NZ tenders. When you read more carefully you find that the 70% may apply to the highest tenderer, but it doesn't appear to apply to Hillside Workshop's tender.

"Hillside's was third-best of nine tenders but it was still 25% more expensive than the tender prepared" by China CNR Corporation.

So what did I mean by my opening proverb? What will cost dearly tomorrow? Well, for starters, if you insist on employing overseas workers (and the Americans have found this to their cost already in their insistence on outsourcing) you eventually find you have a heap of unemployed people on your hands. And how do you keep them from death's door? Oh, yes, you pay them welfare. Um, doesn't that cost you in the long run?

Okay, Kiwirail, let's make it really simple. Say that in my family I have a plumber - an excellent plumber too. I have a plumbing job. He could do it, but so could someone from Christchurch, who just happens to be staying in Dunedin at the moment. The big bonus, I seem to think, is that the guy from Christchurch is going to cost me half the price of my family member. So I go for him. The job gets done. I notice that it's not entirely satisfactory, but the plumber has already returned to Christchurch, and I can't seem to contact him - and anyway, he told me before he left that if there were any problems he'd have to charge me to come back from Christchurch to fix the problems up.

Whoops. Now I have an unsatisfactory job and no cheap way of getting the plumber back to fix it. Shamefacedly, I go to the plumber in my family. He'll fix up the other plumber's less than satisfactory work, but it will not only cost me more, it also leaves me with egg on my face.

Maybe this analogy is too obscure for Kiwirail. Let me make it simpler still: if you don't look after the workers in your own country, eventually you'll have no workers - they'll either be on the dole, or will have gone to Australia. It's a bit like the way we treat fruit consumers in New Zealand: we send all our best stuff overseas and leave the shoddy goods for those at home.

What does it say about how Government and Big Business think about the local people?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wesley and a paradox

John Wesley enunciating the inherent paradox of Christianity (and of Judaism as well, I suspect). Note that by 'religion' Wesley means Christianity, not religion in general, necessarily.

I fear, whenever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revivial of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and love of the world in all its branches.

Quoted in Philip Yancey's 'What Good is God?' - pg 177

Does it work?

Here's today's random question: Does Nutrisystem really work? Perhaps a better question would be: does any diet plan really work? The answer is 'Yes' if you stick to it like glue. The answer is 'No' if you're not prepared to stay on it for the rest of your life.

Seems to me that most diet plans only work well for the time you're on them. Once you come off them, you're on your own, and unless you've made progress in training yourself not to eat the way you did before, you'll go back to where you started.

The old issue of willpower is the problem; very few of us have enough willpower to completely change our lifestyles, even though that lifestyle may be threatening our life. I remember our pastor quoting some stats in church that the majority of people who had heart attacks went back to the kind of lifestyle they'd had before even though that could cause them to have problems again.

Human beings are notoriously difficult to change, and it's even more difficult for us to change ourselves. (Which is, of course, why we need God to work on us - but that's another story.)

Anyway, for something a bit more cheerful than diets...try this joke that @Liturgy tweeted on Twitter...

They canned the Twitter movie. Test audiences found it too hard to keep track of all 140 characters.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Democracy needs the Humanities

‘Radical changes are occurring in what democratic societies teach the young, and these changes have not been well thought through..…The humanities and the arts are being cut away…in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy makers as useless frills, at a time when nations must cut away all useless things in order to stay competitive in the global market, they are rapidly losing their place in curricular, and also in the minds and hearts of parents and children. Indeed, what we might call the humanistic aspects of science and social science – the imaginative, creative aspect, and the aspects of rigorous critical thought – are also losing ground as nations prefer to pursue short term profits by the cultivation of the useful and highly applied skills suited to profit making.’

From Martha C. Nussbaum's book,Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities

Enthusiastically endorsed on Matthew Taylor's blog.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Learning lines

In this blog, I've several times written about the difficulties of learning lines for a play. Last Sunday afternoon I was supposed to do a short skit with a friend of mine at a concert I was also playing at, accompanying a number of my friend's wife's singing pupils. I'd had some trouble learning the lines - and so had he - because there was a great deal of fast-paced repetition, and it was easy to confuse one set of repeats for another. At home, with my wife giving me the cues, I could get through it. And the same went for my friend. On stage, in a pre-concert practice, both of us were getting tangled, and it was such a disaster that I can only say I was immensely relieved when my friend was as happy as I was to abandon the thing. Maybe we'll do it another day. (Stress from issues at work probably wasn't helping my concentration either.)

Talking of plays, next Wednesday several of us are going to do a read-through of the musical script the collaborator and I have been working on for much of this year. I printed it out today (not using laserjet 5500 toner since my printer is a Dell and only takes specific Dell products, nothing generic, and only available from Dell overseas - just thought I'd throw that in) and made several copies on the photocopier at work. It'll be interesting to see how the script reads when a group of people unfamiliar with how it's been put together get a hold of it.

In my last post I mentioned that I had a pile of books to read, and, fatally, I went to the library today and brought home yet another. However, I'm already 100 pages through it (reading in the bath is a great place to focus), so it shouldn't put the other books off for long.

It's Keith Osborn's Something Written in the State of Denmark and is his diary of the time he spent acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009 (?), doing three different plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, and Love's Labours Lost. I like his easygoing style, and the way he records the details of rehearsals and production, the gradual movement from not knowing the play to knowing it so well you can do it night after night with ease - mostly.

Coming back to my opening theme of learning lines, I found that Osborn has an interesting section on learning lines, which I might just quote in full...he's talking at this point about being an understudy for Patrick Stewart, who played both the Ghost and Claudius, in Hamlet.

"Learning lines when you're actually playing the part is much easier than understudying it for several reasons. Obviously you have hours of rehearsal to get to grips with it, as opposed to whatever time the assistant director can filch from the main schedule. But also when rehearsing you get to associate physical actions and moves with the lines which help them to fuse with the cerebral cortex. As an understudy, lines are learnt in isolation, the actor alone with his script, at home or on the way to work, in shops or the Post Office, or wandering the streets. To that end it's a question of repetition, repetition, repetition of small chunks of speeches, then on to whole speeches, then whole scenes one by one until the whole play is built up incrementally in one's head. Then back to the beginning again, then again, then again....

"Although the language is difficult, Shakespeare's verse helps in several ways. The rhythm of the iambic pentameter is itself (de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM) can act as a hook to catch those elusive words and meanings. Also whatever internal rhymes, alliterations or antitheses can be found help too.

"Basically, magpie-like, you steal whatever tool you can to burn the lines into the synapses. At some point, you think 'phew, it's all in there, HURRAH!' BUT in rehearsals on your feet more often than not even this relatively mild performance pressure means that what's been rock solid in your bonce whilst on your own in the comfort of your armchair, with a beverage of choice, turns to complete slush in front of your fellow understudies. With inexorable cruelty the lines melt like snowballs in the sun - or the hell of your own paranoia - as you conclude that THEY'LL NEVER SINK IN! Of course eventually they do but boy oh boy oh boy sometimes it feels like they just won't." [pg 100]

Osborn appears in the photo to the right rear - this is A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was done in modern(ish) day dress.


Having been released from reading almost solely for the Varsity course I was doing, I now seem to be soaking up books left, right and centre on all manner of topics - though strangely enough, few of them are fiction. At the moment I just can't seem to find the right novel to read, and though I've started a couple they haven't enthused me in the slightest. This is nothing against fiction; it's just my state of mind at the moment, I guess.

A friend of mine - the collaborator on the play we're doing, as it happens - was enthusing last night about a trilogy called The Salterton Trilogy. These three books were written by William Robertson Davies (he tended to drop the William when writing), a man who is credited with being one of Canada's most distinguished men of letters (a title he hated, apparently).

The three books in the trilogy are Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954) (which won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour), and A Mixture of Frailties (1958). They apparently have a background of amateur theatricals, (as you might gauge from this cover) which could certainly make them interesting to me.

They have very little to do with shower faucets, which is hardly surprising - though not having read the books yet, I could be wrong on this. And why did I mention that? Just to see if you were on your toes. Your comments will enlighten me as to whether this was the case or not. I'd hate to think you were skimming through this blog post just picking out the interesting bits and ignoring the rest. Though one of the books I got from the library recently - and it was an interloan too, meaning it cost me real money - was so thin in content (heaps of quotes from famous people but not much else) that I skimmed a good three-quarters of it before I came to anything that really aroused my interest. Terrible state of affairs, but such is the nature of books. And anyway, if I'm going to read at all I need to keep reading as fast as I can...being as old as I am, I may not have much reading time left....!

Friday, December 03, 2010


Rosacea is more than pimples, though pimples come into fact it's known as the 'curse of the Celts' because many Irish and Scots people suffer from it. This skin irritation leaves distinctive blotchy red patches in certain areas of the face, typically across the nose, cheeks or forehead.

However, on a site discussing treatments for rosacea, instead of showing us a person whose face has obviously been affected by the skin irritation, we have the usual smiling model [such as the example on the right] whose face has never known acne, let alone rosacea.

Some famous people who've had rosacea include Bill Clinton (did you ever notice?), J P Morgan, W C Fields (you thought it was because he'd been drinking, didn't you?) and Mariah Carey.

Well, there you go. You learn some things every day. If you're curious enough.

Photo courtesy of Chepe Nicoli.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Three short items

Three short things with no obvious connection - if you want, you can make the connection. Let me know what you come up with!

New hotel Dubai

Dubai is known for its extravagent architecture, and the planned Apeiron Hotel will be no exception, as you can see from this photo. This is to be a 7-star hotel - I didn't know there were 7-star hotels (but then I don't exactly live in these circles). The hotel will be accessible only by plane or boat.

It's planned to be built on a small island less than half a kilometre off the Dubai coast and will cost a mere US$500 million.

Revenue Sharing

I'd never heard this expression before, but it seems that 'revenue sharing' is what happens, at least as far as the Internet is concerned, when people who have affiliate programs running on their blogs or other websites, share the income that comes as a result of people clicking on the ads and (preferably) buying something as a result. I used to have an affiliate with Amazon, but it was pretty much a non-starter for me. However, on another site where I 'deposit' articles that stay readable pretty much forever (at least in Internet terms) I gain revenue from both the article itself and also from Google's Adsense system. The latter came in a couple of years ago on this site, and has proved to be the more valuable of the two systems.

One of these days I'll actually make my first $US100 off Adsense. It'll only have taken me three or four years...

Monkey Defense

Monkey Defense games (I have a feeling we'd normally spell that as 'defence' in New Zealand) are also called Monkey Tower Defense Games, because they involve Monkeys, Towers, Balloons and....Defense. Actually now that I read things properly, it's not 'balloons' but 'bloons' - bloons seemingly are merely balloons that people like to pop in games on the Internet. Okay....

That's how the Monkey Defense game started, with an increasing number of balloons/bloons needing to be popped. Sounds ridiculously infantile, but it took off like a storm, and now there are innumerable games involving the same principle...although principle might be too high-falutin a word for what the game involves.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arm-wrestling feminist

The sort of thing you don't expect to find in a serious document on patriarchal domination, feminist theology, and the like.

I also held that liberation from patriarchy is something that women need, not being aware that it is primarily men who need liberation from patriarchy! Such a thought, that it is precisely men who need liberation occurred to me only when I got married to a woman who was raised to think independently for herself and who refused to accept gendered roles. I came to a greater awareness of my gendered self when I lost to her in arm-wrestling. I stopped arm wrestling with my wife in the presence of my kids.

This was written by Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, and appears in an e-book published by the World Council of Churches and World Communion of Reformed Churches called Created in God's Image, from hegemony to partnership.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just a wimp, obviously

Call me ultra-moralistic if you want, Mr 'Working-to-the-Rules', a namby-pamby, a non-risk taker, and anything else, but I can't for the life of me see the point of radar detectors.

The reason police use radars on roads is to prevent accidents primarily, rather than to make money. You can argue this till you're blue in the face, but making money from radars is a secondary aspect - they are there to prevent people speeding.

To me the mindset that goes with using a radar detector is one that says to itself: the whole radar thing is a game. This is how it's played. The cops set up their radar. I speed as much as I can, and if I get caught, it's not my fault. They shouldn't have been being sneaky in the first place. I'm an innocent victim here. Therefore, in order to cease being an innocent victim in the game, and to get one up on the cops, I install a radar detector. This means that when my detector detects, I can slow down. And the cops won't get me. That's how the game is played.

It's a stupid game. It fails to take into consideration the fact that even though you may think you can drive safely at a greater speed than everyone else, it's possible you can't. Furthermore it fails to take into account the fact that there are other people on the road who may not appreciate your speeding and the possibility that you may cause them to be involved in a crash.

I've been told by someone who's a member of our family (an in-law) that he always drives faster than everyone else because he knows he's in control. Yeah, right.

I know I'm banging my head on a wall on this one. I've never yet met anyone who's told me outright they wouldn't think of using a radar detector. Must be a kind of macho thing that I just don't understand (being the little wimpy person that I am, the kind who used to get the sand kicked in his face by the big muscular guy).

Mogil of McGill

Since May I've had a clipping from the Otago Daily Times sitting amongst my various papers that I haven't done anything further with. One of those things that intrigue but you just never quite get round to making use.

Well, the time has come: the paper is starting to discolour (not helped by being on a table one which the sun shines strongly for part of the day) and if I don't do it now it won't get done at all.

The piece concerns some research done by one Prof Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University and relates to the pain threshold differences between men and women. Now the first reaction to such a statement will be to say that women endure pain more readily than men - think 'giving birth' as one of the prime examples.

No, says Prof Mogil of McGill. Overall, men endure pain more than women, even apart from the fact of the pain of labour in pregnancy. A random street survey in which people are asked who endures pain more will come up saying that women do, but Mogil says this is incorrect.

Another interesting aspect of Mogil's findings is that women are 'the vast majority of chronic pain patients.' 'When controlled pain studies are done, not every study finds a difference between the sexes' in terms of pain thresholds. 'But every time a difference is found [my italics], it finds women are more senstive to pain, and less tolerant of it.'

Well it's nice to come across a study that doesn't tell what we already know, but turns accepted wisdom on its head.

You can read a more detailed report of Mogil of McGill's research work on the page.

Somewhat connected with what's gone before, in relation to the differences between men and women, there's little doubt that young men suffer more from acne than young women. Just one of those facts of life (in fact, related to the facts of life!). MD Clear is given the all clear in terms of being a helpful method of reducing the problems relating to acne. I don't know what the MD stands for, though I suspect that it's meant to signify that Medical Doctors approve of this product. Let's hope they do!

The neat photo is by Shira Gal, from

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


My wife and I nearly killed ourselves on Saturday morning.

Now that the laundry has a new floor she had this idea of putting cupboards and shelves in there and a bench top, and found the ideal sort of thing (once she’s rearranged the configuration somewhat) on TradeMe for $150. Ridiculous bargain. But talk about heavy – and of course on Sat morning it drizzled solidly, and it took us two trips to get the stuff, one with a trailer on which the largest item was carried (a former pantry).

Celia was inside the car for that trip, half lying down trying to hold the other stuff from smashing through the windows. Carrying the stuff out to the car was bad enough – we had to come down and go up a steep (though not long driveway). But getting it into our house here was worse. In the end she had to unscrew the large trailer-carried item completely (in the rain) – it was too big to go through any of the doors.

However, since then she’s painted the laundry and put down the secondhand floor covering (same stuff as we've used in the bathroom –I keep thinking it’s called Vortex, but that’s not right) and put the fridge, freezer, washing machine all back in there...on her own. Tonight we’ve set up the former pantry (now chopped down to fit in with the sloping ceiling) and it’s looking great.

The room is so much better without all the clutter of pipes (they’ve all been removed and replaced with the Tub thing that we bought), and the leftover bit of concrete from the old toilet, and the horrible pink walls we’ve endured since we were foolish enough to paint them that colour (I think we hoped the colour would fade – it didn’t) and the old cistern, and the rubbish floor that was heading downhill, and the wall that divided the laundry itself from the toilet area. Plus all the junk that accumulated in there.

All in all, a transformation.

Virtual Voices

One of my colleagues at work used to sing in one of the big Wellington choirs, and has always enjoyed big choirs and the sound they make.  He says he 'has a love affair with the human voice.'   He's in hospital just now but when he comes out I'm going to alert him to Eric Whitacre's virtual choir.   I know I'm slow in catching up on this, and the only reason I came across it was because the Concert programme's competition this week has a prize of one of Whitacre's CDs, and they mentioned it in passing.

Here's Whitacre conducting his virtual, but definitely live, choir: 185 voices from 12 countries all apparently singing together.  I'm not sure how this is done, because the intro talks about '243 tracks' as well - does that mean he actually conducted each singer separately?   Seems unlikely.   But then, so does getting 185 internet connections to function perfectly together!  [You can actually see how it was put together in the link under Whitacre's name above...]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hidden in the recesses of time

Thinking not very deeply about diamond stud earrings, and other such flashy items (like nintendo jewellery) and reflecting a little on a letter to the editor that appeared in today's Otago Daily Times about Prince William's gift of his mother's engagement ring to his wife-to-be.   The writer was irate that William was giving Kate a second-hand ring.   Surely that's a very recycling thing to do, apart from any sentimental associations? 

My wife received a secondhand ring too, when we got engaged.   We weren't particularly well off at that stage, and it seemed reasonable enough.   One of my daughters subsequently dropped it down a hole in the stairwell wall and that's the last we've seen of it.  (I have no idea what my daughter was doing playing with it.)

I didn't give my wife-to-be my mother's engagement ring because I'm not even sure if my mother had one.  She was married in wartime, and I suspect engagement rings were regarded as a bit of an extravagance.   Apart from that my mother was still alive when I got married, so if she did have an engagement ring, she may not have been keen to part with it.

On the other hand, my grandmother's ring is something I do have - my English grandmother, that is.  (Again, I don't know if my New Zealand grandmother even had an engagement ring - she had nine children in due course, which probably would account for any lack of rings in the house.)   My English grandmother's ring could easily be recycled too: it looks exactly like a curtain ring.  It's perfectly round and thin as can be.    How it came to be in my possession is something that I no longer remember - not because I'm losing my marbles but because I don't actually recall ever knowing.   Maybe my mother received it at some point, perhaps when my grandmother died.   Who knows?   Hidden in the recesses of time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Missing the point

“I think atheists miss the point. I don’t grant atheism and agnosticism the same moral quality that I give to people who pursue the religious or spiritual way of life… . If you are still an atheist when you get to my age, you don’t know shit. I hope you change.”

New Statesman - The NS Interview: James Ellroy, author

found courtesy of Alan Jacobs.

Justice seen to be done? Not

A Dunedin man, at an under-10-year-old rugby match, swore at the ref, abused him, walked on the field, continued to swear and abuse the ref even after he'd been told to get off the field.

Another spectator asked him to stop swearing, and was abused himself. The spectator, who just happens to have a Maori or Pacific Island name, finally decided enough was enough and punched the abusing man in the jaw.

The abusing man called him a 'coward'! Yeah, right. The Maori/Pacific Island man punched him again.

The result: the striker gets fined $500 and the abuser walks away Scot free. And the judge's comments? I quote from the Otago Daily Times:

The judge: said [the Maori/PI]'s reaction to [the swearer's] "poor behaviour" was unjustified and wrong - particularly in front of children - and the conviction would remind him such actions were unacceptable.

Uh, it's acceptable to swear continually, abuse the ref, walk on the field, continue to swear after you've been asked to stop. Oh, right. That'll be why such 'victims' (as the judge called him) get away with such garbage.

And note this paragraph: In court yesterday, defence lawyer Sarah Saunderson-Warner said a restorative justice meeting had not been possible because of the attitude of the victim, who indicated he would only take part if [the Maori/PI] brought $5000.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Public dance and singing

Everybody's getting in on the act of using public spaces for unexpected dance and singing 'moments' - T-mobile has made a series of advertisements that have a great spontaneity about them (although they're obviously well rehearsed by the artists involved) and the best thing is the delight on the faces of those who are unwittingly involved, such as the passengers coming off planes at Heathrow Airport.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The right way to deal with statistics

Bradley Wright, pg 218-9 of Christians are Hate-filled Hypocrites...and other lies you've been told:

For reasons I don't fully understand, statistics hold a strange power over people. Someone who is otherwise a clear thinker will readily accept something not true when it is presented as a statistic. (This is especially true for statistics presented in written form.) Statistics somehow can bypass the critical-thinking part of hte brain and go straight ot the "oh, that must be right" part.

Guess what? You don't have to believe all statsitics! The Bible commands us to love others unconditionally, but this applies to people, not statistics. With statistics, we should be everything we shouldn't be with people - cranky, sceptical, and critical. With statistics, acceptance should be earned, not freely given.

I routinely irritate friends and family by not believing the statistics that they tell me if the statistics don't sound right. When I disagree, they sometimes respond by repeating the statistic, in case I somehow missed that it's a statistic (and therefore to be accepted at face value). I still choose not to believe it, and their reaction is often one of disbelief, as if I'm breaking some unwritten rule.

His rules for his 'deputy-sociologists' in dealing with a statistic (pg 221):
Question whether it's accurate
Question the motives of the person writing
Disagree with the conclusions
Judge the statistic in light of your own experiences
Not believe it for any reason, including just being in a cranky mood.
I note that this has been my way of working with statistics for quite some time, so it's nice to know I'm in good company!


Since I finished the exam I've been working fairly steadily through the script of the musical, getting on and writing music (as you might expect).

It's going fairly well: there are ten scenes in all, some of which will have only a small amount of music; some of which - like the one I'm working on now - will have a great deal. Scene four, the current one, appears in the script just to have 'songs' (for want of a better name though perhaps 'sung moments' might be Best Buy choice) scattered throughout with dialogue in between, but in order to get a decent flow I think I'm going to have to do what I did with the first and second scenes: have music going continuously so that the singers sing where appropriate, or talk over the music where it's not.

But those in-between bits need special timing and a better sense of the overall music in the scene, and so I haven't written any of them yet. Instead, what I've been writing are the 'sung moments', leaving gaps for the in-between stuff to get filled in later. I'm sure it's a perfectly legit way to work, but it feels a little odd. My tendency with music is to write from whoa to go and then fix things up later, reconstruct where necessary.

Anyway, there's one advantage to my approach here, and this is that the moments are all fairly short, (no one sings lengthy arias in this musical, or even lengthy songs), and so they don't take a lot of writing. It'll be all the joining up and the figuring out of how long the dialogue will take that's going to be the slower part.

Another advantage is that I'd already written some of the songs for this scene a while ago, because they were in my head when the script was being written and I wanted to get them down (and one of them has been lifted in a modified fashion from the original version of the musical, written some thirty odd years ago).

So the upshot of all I'm saying here is that I have a stretch of music with holes to fill in later. And the advantage to that approach is that when it comes to filling in the gaps there'll be plenty of thematic material to work from.

Some time in the next month I'd like to get a cast together to read the script through (without any music) and just let other people get a feel of what it's like, and see what their comments are. It's something we (my collaborator and I) have been planning for a while, but both of us had exam commitments to get out of the way first. Hopefully that'll be an interesting experience for those involved, and they'll find the script fresh - and funny. Time will tell.

Smart dog smart phone

We spent some of yesterday trying yet another way to stop the dog digging up the seed potatoes - he likes the flavour of the blood and bone we put with them to help them get started.

Our first attempt a couple of weeks ago had been to try and surround the potato patch with a kind of fence but the wind was too strong for the material we were using. Then my older son suggested using a spray of cayenne pepper (ten parts water to one part cayenne pepper) - that kept him (the dog, not my son) away from the patch briefly. My son also suggested putting down newspaper over the patch with some sort of weights to hold the paper down. This kind of worked, except where the dog removed the paper.

Yesterday, while my grandchildren played with my wife's iphone, we tried the approach I'd suggested initially: some netting over the top of the patch that would allow the plants to grow but keep the dog from digging. It looked very successful - we even managed to reuse some very elderly wire netting that was cleared out from under the house where my wife and youngest son had pulled out the laundry floor on Friday in preparation for a new one going down.

After making some pins out of number 8 wire to hold the netting down, we felt that success had finally been achieved. Went inside to rescue the smartphone from the kids. Found later in the afternoon that the dog had chewed some of the netting (it's a material type) and got into the end of the one of the patches and....dug up a potato. Put the remaining bit of elderly wire over the broken material.

Went to my other's son's first son's birthday party (on yet another very hot day) where my son didn't have time to show my wife his newly acquired iphone mark 4 because he was busy running around after a bunch of pre-schoolers, and came home to find yet another potato had resurfaced. Dog duly told off in such terms as to make him look abashed for at least five minutes.

Pinned down the material again. Discovered that the dog has decided to use the area around the clothesline for depositing other things -the kind you walk in by accident and only discover after the smell keeps walking along with you.

Washed the dog who was also carrying around some of the same smell, and finally settled down to watch an excellent Indian movie on Maori television that I'd already seen in which true love doesn't win out, while my wife, who knew the story already, played a game that has so far defeated her, on the app on the phone that is obviously smarter than least for the moment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Norris on Stafford

Kathleen Norris (in her book, Amazing Grace, pg 78) quotes William Stafford...."who once said that he never had writer's block, because when a poem failed to come, he simply lowered his standards and accepted whatever came along."

He also said: "Successful people cannot find poems, for you must kneel down and explore for them." Norris writes that she decided this applied to religious belief as well as to poetry.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I've more than once been asked to write something about Mesothelioma on this blog (no need to ask why, just accept the fact that's the case) and invariably fail to remember how to spell it. Never mind - accept the fact that the spelling above is correct. Just accept it!

Mesothelioma, as you'll know, is a cancer related to asbestos; that is, people who've worked with asbestos and inhaled the asbestos dust over a period of time are very susceptible to getting the illness. Just so you're really clear about this, mesothelioma is named from the mesothelium, which is a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. It's composed of two layers of cells: one layer immediately surrounds the organ; the other forms a sac around it. The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between these layers, allowing moving organs (such as the beating heart and the expanding and contracting lungs) to glide easily against adjacent structures.

Now there's something you didn't know you'd find out when you came to read this blog today. Anyway, if you've contracted mesothelioma you may need a mesothelioma lawyer so that you don't find your employer or ex-employer trying to wriggle out of paying you money in compensation. That's another story. What I'm more interested in today is asbestos itself.

Asbestos is a Greek word meaning 'unquenchable' or 'inextinguishable' - a pretty scary sort of thought in itself, particulary if you've picked up the cancer connected to it. There are other other illnesses you can contract via asbestos: asbestostosis, which affects the lungs, for instance, and lung cancer itself.

Asbestos ain't fun to be around, even though it's very effective as a building material, with various qualities that make it useful. In fact, it's not so much its use in building that's the big problem (although there are hazards), it's what happens when you 'unbuild' it.

Now you might think we've only just discovered in the last couple of centuries that its use brought problems; nope, the ancient Greeks noticed that when their slaves mined asbestos they tended to get sick. Of course, there were always plenty more slaves around, so it didn't matter in those days. (Slaves were only there for use, like other tools and materials.)

There's a story that Charlemagne had a tablecloth made out of asbestos. Certainly it might have saved on the laundering, but you have to kind of wonder what it did to the food....

Mining of asbestos in modern times turned out to be not much better for the slaves - sorry, workers - than it had been in ancient days. Miners got sick just like their forebears and were probably treated only marginally better.

Strangely, asbestos is found naturally in the air outdoors, and in some drinkable water, including water from natural sources. Most people's systems cope with the infinitesimal amounts that they come in contact with, but there have been studies done in which it was found that people living near to asbestos deposits got sick; increasingly, the closer they lived to the deposits. Mesothelioma was one of the main illnesses they contracted.

When the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, millions of particles of asbestos were released into the air. That's pretty scary.

You look around the world some days and think: this is a pretty okay sort of a place. And then you discover that the Creator seems to have left some very strange things just kind of lying around. Equally, when you think that the ancient Greeks had a fairly good idea that asbestos, for all its useful properties, wasn't that healthy for humans, you have to wonder why we moderns have considered using it in such huge quantities.

Seemingly the only way we learn is when we find we have to fork out large sums of money in compensation.


As someone who's worn a full beard (inclusive, of course, of a moustache) for many years, wearing a moustache for Movember is never much of an issue for me.

However, not having one makes quite a vital difference to a number of famous faces, as the Mustaches Make a Difference campaign shows. This campaign not only promotes Movember, but also de-promotes a number of famous faces, from Gandhi and Einstein to Dali and Queen. The 'renamed' character sans moustache shows that this most remarkable facial feature makes a huge difference to the look of a man - it always intrigued me how many NZ policeman wore the 'police moustache' as I called it. It had a certain regulatory look about it, was very formal, and added an element of threat to the police face (note how ordinary Stalin looks without his moustache - it's the same process).

Here's just one example of these clever pictures:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A song for atheists

Steve Martin provides atheists with a 'song' - well, sort of. Whether they'll appreciate it or not is another question.

It may not become top of the pops (although the close harmony is great) but at least it provides something humorous about what is often a deadly serious subject.

(Incidentally, Martin's movie, Leap of Faith, from 1992, still stands as a surprisingly good 'discussion' about faith, real and fake.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Shotgun or NO Shotgun

Something called 'NO Shotgun' passed my way yesterday. At least I thought it was NO Shotgun, but it proved to be N.O. Shotgun. I came across it on a site relating to NO Shotgun reviews, and discovered that N.O. Shotgun is a kind of supplement you take it you're aiming to build your muscles up - big time. (Don't ask me what the N.O. stands for - I've missed out on that bit of info.)

NO Shotgun gives you increased energy - something I could do with about 2 pm most days, when my mind decides that a little nap wouldn't go amiss. It's one of a huge range of products available nowdays for those who think that building up strength and energy the old way - by working out - isn't sufficient.

There was a guy on TV recently who's dying because of the way he's treated his body in order to be able to look like the most muscular guy on the planet (you know, the kind of guys who seem to be all arms and legs and very little else). And yet he's still punishing his body; it's an addiction.

And on my way to work I notice that a shop has been opened just recently which sells these kinds of products and little else. The window display at present consists of large boxes containing stuff that's supposed to make you big and strong. Don't think I'm going to be trying any of them any time soon, not even to foist off a nap.

Apropos of the above not at all, we got a quote today for removing the laundry floor. Why would we want to do that, you ask? Well, when it starts off flat and then heads rapidly downhill as you go towards the back of the room, something has to change. The piles had always had an amateurish look about them, but they've survived longer than the thirty plus years we've been in the house. Until now. Some of the piles consist of a bundle of bricks stacked on top of each other with a bit of plaster to hold them in place, and a piece of wood shoved in at the top if the bricks didn't fit directly to the base of the floor.

Some of that wood has just given up the ghost. On the other side of the room, however, is something even more amazing - and this was put in by whoever built this part of the house. Instead of having a flat wall of bricks on that side, every so often there's a brick sticking out sideways, and these bits of brick are supposed to support the floor over there. Extraordinary. The builder who came to look at the floor the other day had never seen anything like it. One of the bricks isn't even touching the floor at all.

Anyway we're going to get some proper piles, and a new floor, and hopefully from then on when we enter the room, our first experience won't be of slightly queasy feeling as we see the floor lowering away before us.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sorting out the world

Just something quirky that my son showed me the other night.

It's well known that the maps of the world we usually see are distorted, with the Northern hemisphere countries being out of proportion to their actual size. (Here's a map that gives a better indication of relative sizes.) But what's really intriguing is that the map of Africa (the whole continent) comfortably swallows up countries that we normally think of as huge: the US, China, and India.

Population size doesn't equate to land size, which is why, as I was told yesterday, the Chinese invaded India back in the 50s/60s (sorry, not just sure of the date), in order to have more space. If they'd really wanted space, they should have shifted some of their population to Africa. The Africans might not have even noticed. Or to central Australia. No one would have noticed if they'd been quiet about it.

Anyway, here's where to find the map of Africa with China, India, the US, Great Britain, and all of Europe laid over it.

Russia doesn't fit, because, in spite of our general thinking, Russia has the largest land mass of any country, with Canada in second place - even though it's almost half the size. The US comes next (although it's in 4th place on this page) with China in the actual fourth place. Brazil and Australia follow.

There we go. Got the world sorted out at last.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Dolphins and healthy families

And via Alan Jacobs:

For 25 years, the researchers have made detailed observations of bottlenose dolphins in the eastern gulf of Australia’s Shark Bay. That one-of-a-kind dataset allowed them to chart the relatedness of dolphin moms and map their habits of social association, then correlate these patterns to whether their offspring survived childhood.

As would be expected, calves born to moms from reproductively successful families tended to do well. But for dolphin moms from less-fit families, that lack of a pedigree was offset if they tended to hang out with successful moms. The researchers’ analysis suggested that keeping good company was just as important — even, at times, more important — than coming from good stock.

Baby Dolphin Survival Depends on Mom’s Friends | Wired Science |

Politicians and truth

We must communicate to politicians that we don’t expect 100% perfection but we do expect 100% truth. In this way we give politicians permission to tell the truth even when they might otherwise fear the public response. Making a case for a move away from the reigning assumption of spin towards a radical assumption of truth is very important, and a crucial one to democracy and just government.

Paul Chaplin
"The lie of perfection" in catapult magazine

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Now that the exam is over

Over on one of my other blogs,, I've been celebrating the fact that, the huge conglomerate of websites put together by enthusiastic amateurs like me, and then dumped from the Internet without much warning by Yahoo, has not only been rescued by, but also ASCII and OoCities. Great job, guys!

Now that my exam is over, and the course finished, I can relax a bit and start reading books that aren't related to NZ history again. I've been reading one called Bottled and Sold - the story behind our obsession with bottled water, by Peter Gleick. It's interesting but a bit repetitious, so I On the other hand I finally started reading Half the Sky today, which I bought a month or more ago and couldn't allow myself to get into because of the study. It's an in-your-face look at the way women are treated around the world, not just in terms of forced prostitution, but slavery in general, and abuse of every kinds (and I mean abuse: beatings, eyes gouged out, having acid thrown at them and much more).

I did read some other non-study books over the last few months (impossible for me not to do so). One was a biography of Georgette Heyer, the historical romance novelist. My mother had practically every book she wrote, I think, and I've read some of them in the past myself. She was an excellent writer, a great humorist, and a somewhat indomitable human being. I also started reading the biography of jazz pianist Mike Nock called Serious Fun. It started off very interestingly but has become a bit of a list of who played with whom and who was taking drugs at the time and which album they recorded while they were together for a few months and so on. I'm supposed to review it, so I'll have to give it some more house room yet.

I haven't consciously heard a lot of Nock's music, as it happens. I know his name well, and I've no doubt heard tracks on which he's been playing in passing (usually on one of those jazz programmes on the Concert FM, or whatever it's currently called), but I've never really sat down and listened. Hmm. I got a CD out of the library the other day and was surprised at how dull it was. Nock's left hand went on and on playing the same thing, while his right hand wandered around with no apparent idea where it was going. That was the first two tracks. After that my mind had switched off and I didn't hear what came next. I gave the CD another go a day or so later, and the same thing happened.

I'll have to try a different album. It's unlikely that his reputation stands or falls on that particular CD.

And the other thing I'm doing, of course, is getting on with writing the music for the musical. The stuff I'd already written has been buzzing around in my brain every time I stopped thinking about anything else, so I need to get on and write some more (or go mad). I've been orchestrating some of the music I wrote a while back and it's been good to hear it - particularly now that I'm actually hearing what it's like rather than what my two dud speakers on the computer claimed it sounded like. A bit of adjustment on the Sibelius program itself, and the use of earphones, made a huge difference.

I've just noticed that there's some way to record music via a microphone using Sibelius. Once it's recorded and Sibelius has transcribed it, you can edit it - make it look like it should! I hope it's better than the scanning program Sibelius uses: I've given up on that because it's more work trying to edit than just transcribing the stuff straight into the computer in the first place. It doesn't seem to work any better with this latest version of Sibelius than it did with the old one. Of course, it possibly doesn't help that most music people want me to transcribe is elderly, often torn, scribbled over and various other things. But even clean copies don't seem to go too well.

It doesn't look as though I installed the microphone (audio score lite) program. Maybe I'll get onto that some time - although the way I write music doesn't really lend itself to that much. Still it may prove more of a bonus than I think!

By the way, the exam went far more smoothly than I expected, I felt pretty good about it, and hopefully the examiner will too. But three hours of typing took a fair amount of concentration (I can't even begin to imagine writing for three hours) and my bum also got tired of sitting in the same spot for so long. There were only two of us disabled people in the room - I don't know what was wrong with the young woman who was also doing an exam (probably a different one to me) - and there were two supervisors! All very friendly. Because there were so few of us we started a quarter of an hour early. Better than sitting around nervously.

Holocaust survivor

Short video (about 12 minutes) relating to the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world. At 106 she's still playing Bach and Beethoven on her piano, and receiving regular visitors....

This is the Official Trailer for a new documentary short about the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world Alice Herz-Sommer. If you want to see the finished film early next year please email:

Directed by Oscar winning director Malcolm Clarke
Produced by Nick Reed, Malcolm Clarke, Chris Branch, Larry Abramson, Jasmine Daghighian

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Exam, cats and dogs, correct views

Exam at 9.30 this morning. Enough said.

I think my head must be so full of 'stuff' for the exam at the moment that even though it was rather scary, I found I couldn't remember the name of one of my grandchildren this morning when I woke. There was this odd 'hole' in my brain where the name should have been. Having had two blood relatives who had Alzheimer's, it made me a bit uneasy.

I've been reading some of Alister McGrath's Mere Theology. In the book he mentions a writer Leszek Kolakowski, who was a Marxist but now writes from a much more philosophical point of view, as far as I can gather. (I must admit to having read this book with a little less than concentration, but I'll come back to it when I've got more time.)

The title of one of Kolakowski's books appealed to me greatly: My Correct Views on Everything. That's the way to go. It has some connections with the subtitle of this blog....

We now have a cat and a dog in the house, as I've no doubt mentioned before. I think we had that picture of the lion lying down with the lamb. Not quite. At first the cat was very wary of the dog (she'd arrived first as well), and he wanted to play...and chase!

Then there seemed to be a patch of mutual respect (it helped perhaps that the cat had cuffed the dog sharply enough to make him squeal.) They'll kind of circle each other, neither sure who's going to make the first move. And the cat has to be hoisted up and out of the dog's way on more than one occasion in order to 'rescue' her (although we don't use that word; she'd find it insulting). In time they may come to be mates. It isn't looking like it'll happen tomorrow.

Friday, October 29, 2010

To bet or not to bet

I think there's something in most of us that fancies the idea of getting rich quickly, even when we know that being well-off isn't necessarily as great as it's cut out to be. And I guess it's something that often comes to mind when we're worse off than usual; we may not want to be a millionaire, but a few extra dollars a week wouldn't go amiss. And yes, I know Jesus tells us to be content with what we have and seek the kingdom first, and generally speaking I aim to be content, and seek. Nevertheless there are days when....

Anyway, there have been a couple of times in my life when I've thought that I'd found the right scheme for betting on the horses. I've come across a few people who apparently live comfortably enough by successfully betting on the nags, but from what I can understand it's actually something you need to treat as a job, not a hobby. Doing it casually won't get the results. However, I wasn't planning on giving up my job at that point...

In general I don't go in for sports betting, but something about the horses has always intrigued me, and I actually enjoy going to the races once in a while. So when schemes that didn't seem to require too much effort came my way, I went for them. Yup, foolish.

There was one that required you to get hold of the weekly racebook, and by checking through the statistics figure out which horses fitted the category of ones you could bet on. There would be a disappointing number to bet on each week, I found. People who treat the thing as a hobby are inclined to expect to be able to bet on virtually anything with four legs. Nope, you don't.

I did try this method for a while, though not by actually using any real hard cash. Either I wasn't checking the stats correctly, or the horses decided that losing was better than winning. Anyway, I would have been a pauper if I'd continued on with this system (and used real money).

The other system I remember thinking very seriously about was a computer programme. All the stats were already entered in for you for all the horses through the country, and all you had to do was update these as the next lot of races came along. It looked foolproof. Hmm. It also cost quite a bit to get started on, and again, after great initial enthusiasm, I let it go.

Occasionally when I've been at the races I've had good days - doubling my $2 bet, for instance - but such days are few and far between (as are the days I actually go to the races). Still, there's something about the atmosphere at a race meeting; you see people you never seem to come across in your ordinary day. It's as if the city suddenly produced a pile of people were never walked the streets at any other time.

Somewhat off the subject of betting, but still on the subject of race meetings, I remember going to one particularly striking meeting. Halfway through the afternoon, huge black clouds came up over the hills. A chilly wind swept through the stands, and within minutes there was such a downpour that the gutters on the grandstand roof couldn't cope and the water was pouring off the roof like a constant sheet in front of the spectators. There was thunder and lightning and general weather mayhem.

Some people stood out in the rain - I suppose that's an experience in itself. The rest of us retreated away from the front of the stand, waited until Nature had done her dash, and then dashed ourselves for the cars, over some of the most sodden ground you've ever come across.

The photo is by Kirsten

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quit yer whining!

When you get good at whining, you start noticing evidence that makes your whining more true. So you amplify that and immerse yourself in it, thus creating more evidence, more stuff worth complaining about.

If you spent the same time prattling on about how optimistic you are, you'd have to work hard to make that true...

Seth Godin: two problems with whining.